AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY
WITH the lifting of the ban on Playboy and the Commission on the Newspaper Industry currently considering such matters as the British press in Ireland ones thoughts instantly turn to Father R. S. Devane SJ. For Father Devane would surely have had something to say about both.
Father Devane was the author of The Imported Press, A National Menace. Some Remedies, published by James Duffy of Westmoreland Street, Dublin in 1950. He was a prolific writer on matters to do with the media long before that word was used, and a member of the Committee on Evil Literature which reported in 1929.
Father Devane wrote The Imported Press at a time when daily newspapers from Britain were subject to a tariff. This did not apply to Sunday newspapers. It was also when the war time restriction on newsprint in Britain was being lifted which he believed would lead to attempts to increase circulations of British newspapers, especially the particularly evil Sunday newspapers, in Ireland.
Bedevilled by Doubts
Father Devane was not a man bedevilled by doubts. Political and economic freedom was one thing, but what about "the freedom of the Irish mind" he asked. The freedom of the Irish mind has been lost, he argued, because of Anglicisation, which was due almost entirely to the importation of British newspapers, periodicals and other printed matter.
He saw idealism and mysticism replaced by cynicism, fatalism and pessimism. "Native music and song have given way to jazz, crooning, and the dances of African primitives".
Working class education in Britain had produced "semi literates" and a new form of newspaper was produced for them. Tit Bits, Pearson's Weekly and then the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and finally the Daily Mirror.
Respectable journals were replaced by these "vulgar" successors. Having found British critics of the British press, Father Devane asked "If the British press be such a considerable menace to effective freedom of the British people, what must be thought of the sinister influence of that alien press on the minds of the Irish."
In 1950 people had been "mentally doped" into a state of unconcern that was dangerous to the national well being, but it was not always thus.
It was in Limerick that the first attempts to resist the menace were made. In 1911 a Vigilance Committee was formed to take action, and that they did. The train arrived with the Sunday papers and was met by members of the committee and the newspapers seized and burned "amid much popular excitement". "Is it not possible to divert the idealism of our militant young men into this channel once again? " bemoaned a disillusioned Father Devane.
However, in Ireland of the 1950s it was not only the mentally doped that failed to see the danger from the imported press, but also those "unbalanced folk" who denounce censorship and wish to impose "the modernist canon of art for art's sake "
"Do you stand with Wilde and the a moralists, or with Christ and traditional morality? Today the titanic world struggle is being waged between Christ and anti Christ, and the final battle is being fought for control of the school and of the printing press, for the mind of the child and of man."
In 1950, Ireland was overwhelmed by the colossal circulation of the British press, he wrote. "We must break through, this alien system of intellectual tutelage or (shall we say?) mental servitude. We need native thinkers and writers who cannot properly function unless they have that means of expression supplied by popular journalism. We must do our own thinking and refuse to be mentally bottle fed by those whose interests are alien to ours. We must gradually supply journals for our youth, our women, for all classes, allowing entrance from outside only to such as we cannot produce ourselves or which we think useful to our people."
Stirring stuff Unfortunately the good Father did not say who the "we" was who would decide what was useful to our people. One might hazard a guess which might include the vigilance committee members of Limerick.
For Father Devane the situation was so serious in 1950 that he was able to state that military or economic occupation was far less harmful than metal and cultural occupation. "It is now the final fight for Freedom of the Irish Mind." And that fight was to be thought with increased tariffs, licences and > quotas.